Local mental health professionals see the community center as a space to promote whole-family and whole-community wellness. PHOTO COURTESY OF LINDSAY DEGROOT

A one-stop shop

Madison Valley Community Center

Early conversations have started again about a community center in Ennis, Mont. Local mental health leaders and community members met on Monday to discuss benefits and hear concerns about having a focal point with resources for the whole family.

The shooting on Hugel Street in Ennis at the end of October was a wakeup call for Lindsay Leadbetter-DeGroot, licensed professional counselor with her own practice, L D Counseling Services, in Ennis. Leadbetter-DeGroot looked at the situation and what stuck out to her was the lack of resources that may have been part of the tragedy.

“I know enough about prevention to know that a community center would be a huge resource in prevention services in the community in terms of mental and physical health,” Leadbetter-DeGroot said.

“We know there’s a problem with a multitude of things—substance abuse, alcohol abuse… but nobody really has a stomach for anything too big, so I think this is something the community could be ready for,” Cindy Adams, decade-plus Ennis resident and vicechair of the Madison County Mental Health Local Advisory Council, said.

Leadbetter-DeGroot sent out proposal letters to leaders in the Madison Valley community— town council members, hospital leaders, mental health professionals—explaining her vision for the Madison Valley Community Center.

The framework is grounded in prevention and early intervention resources. The community center would serve as a hub, a place where components that already exist can come together under one roof to meet a common goal—enhancing the wellbeing of Madison County residents.

With a one-stop-shop rhythm, parents could get their needs met at the same time as their children take a swimming lesson or a dance class. “Because currently that’s not an option anywhere in our county,” Ke’Lah Savage-Willauer, licensed clinical social worker and therapist with her practice, Peak Mental Health, in Twin Bridges, Mont., said.

“I think what’s lacking in our community is really a framework for existing entities to work together so we are not reproducing services,” Adams said.

From Leadbetter-DeGroot’s research, access, cost and proximity are the main variables that play into whether or not a person seeks out physical or mental health services. A recent Madison County Community Mental Health Needs Assessment identified the same factors as barriers.

“We need to increase the utilization of mental and physical healthcare and in order to do that we have to talk about the accessibility, cost and proximity,” Leadbetter-DeGroot said.

Savage-Willauer wants the community center to be a county resource, not just a Madison Valley resource. As a resident of Twin Bridges, part of her desire to be involved is to advocate for this.

As chair of the Madison County Mental Health Local Advisory Council, Savage-Willauer pointed out that transportation was an issue identified in the council’s needs assessment. If there is a space within the county, ideally with transportation facilitated for youth, it reduces the need for county residents to travel and seek services elsewhere.

As the county’s former prevention specialist, Adams worries about the amount of emotional counseling, not just school or college preparation counseling, for youth in the county. Part of the community center could include space for youth counseling services.

Leadbetter-DeGroot estimates the annual operating fees as less than $1 million. She plans to look into grant options and private philanthropy before asking members of the community to contribute. “There’s money out there for this. Basically, we just have to figure out where that money is coming from,” she said.

Location-wise, a tentative plan is in place to secure a building within the next five years.

On Monday afternoon, Leadbetter-DeGroot facilitated a meeting for those interested in the community center conversation.

Over the next few months, the primary goals include: applying for grant money to fund a functionality assessment; starting a separate nonprofit that will work with the hospital, town, county, schools and mental health professionals; creating a steering committee; and hiring a facilitator to act as a third-party—an individual who can oversee the functionality assessment who is not invested in the project. Headwaters RC&D will help with grant applications.

Community members’ concerns came in the form of competition with preexisting businesses. “Basically, our response to that… it’s our intention to collaborate with the community and to bring people into this,” Leadbetter-DeGroot said after the meeting.

She gave an example of a fitness instructor teaching an extra class at the community center, making a little extra income and promoting their businesses at the same time. Leadbetter-DeGroot sees another purpose of the center as a big, physical phone book, in a sense—people can use the community center to find established event spaces or gyms in the area.

Ennis Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marshall Bettendorf saw many benefits for shoulder seasons and for local businesses. During the shoulder seasons, he pictured the center hosting events and filling hotels, using local restaurants to provide catering services, as an example. Maybe snowbirds would stay in town a bit longer to use a pool or different services the center may provide.

“Everybody in this town would benefit from a community center economically,” Bettendorf said.

Prior to and during the meeting, some brought up reviving the old pool conversation. Madison County Commissioner Jim Hart identified money and scope as the main issues with the pool, which could be the same challenges faced by a community center.

“It’s one thing to try to find money to build it and it’s another thing to maintain it,” Hart said.

Part of DeGroot’s proposition includes the possibility of a pool space. She maintains that integrating a pool into a larger infrastructure may be more viable in the long term.

“A pool is wonderful. It would be a great addition, but we can also start small and expand. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” Adams said.

The steering committee has open spots available. Individuals with experience in community planning are encouraged to apply for the full-time facilitator position. Contact Leadbetter-DeGroot at to inquire about either position.

“I think the community center is such a huge undertaking and I’m so excited to see these beginning stages kind of starting to (come together),” Savage-Willauer said.

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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